The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

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"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"
Author Arthur Conan Doyle
Series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Publication date 1892
Client(s) None
Set in December 1889

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the seventh story of twelve in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The story was first published in Strand Magazine in January 1892.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Watson visits his friend Holmes at Christmas time and finds him contemplating a battered old hat, brought to him by the commissionaire Peterson after the hat and a Christmas goose had been dropped by a man in a scuffle with some street ruffians. Peterson takes the goose home to eat, but later returns to Holmes with a blue carbuncle his wife had found in the bird's crop (throat). Holmes makes some interesting deductions concerning the owner of the hat from simple observations of its condition, conclusions amply confirmed when an advertisement for the owner produces the man himself: Henry Baker.

Holmes cannot resist such an intriguing mystery, and he and Watson set out across the city to determine exactly how the jewel, stolen from the Countess of Morcar during her stay at a hotel, wound up in a goose's crop. The man who dropped the goose, Mr. Henry Baker, comes to reclaim his hat in response to Holmes' advertisement. Holmes drops hints about how he saved the "innards" of the goose, but Baker fails to respond to them, simply saying that he is afraid goose remains are not much use. He does, however, give Holmes valuable information, eventually leading him to the conclusive stage of his investigation, at Covent Garden. Holmes offers a fresh goose to Henry Baker, who responds with gladness and departs, whereupon Holmes tells Watson that Baker is eliminated from the suspect list as he obviously knows nothing about the carbuncle. At Covent Garden, a salesman named Breckinridge gets angry with Holmes, complaining about all the people who have pestered him about geese sold recently to the landlord of the Alpha Inn. Clearly, someone else knows that the carbuncle was in a goose and is looking for the bird.

James Ryder imploring Holmes' mercy

Holmes expects that he will have to visit the goose supplier in Brixton, but it proves unnecessary: the other "pesterer" that the salesman mentioned shows up right then, a cringing little man named James Ryder whom Holmes prevails upon to tell the whole sordid story, by first mentioning that Ryder is probably looking for a goose with a black bar on its tail, a remarkable bird that "[laid] an egg after it was dead". Of course, Holmes has already deduced most of it.

Ryder, believing he was being pursued for the theft, fed the carbuncle to a goose being bred by his sister Maggie Oakshott. He was to have had that goose as a gift, but lost track of which one it was.

When Ryder cut open the goose and found no gem, he went back to his sister, who had provided the Alpha Inn geese, and asked if there was more than one goose with a black bar on its tail. She said there were two, but he was too late: she had sold it to Breckinridge at Covent Garden. Breckinridge had already sold the geese to the Alpha Inn, and the other goose with a black bar on its tail had found its way to Henry Baker as his Christmas fowl. Ryder and his accomplice — the countess's maid, Catherine Cusack — contrived to frame John Horner, a plumber who worked at the same hotel as Ryder and had previously been imprisoned for robbery, for the crime.

Holmes, however, does not take the standard action against the man, it being Christmas, concluding that arresting the clearly anguished Ryder will only make him into a more hardened criminal later. Ryder flees to the continent and Horner will be freed as the case against him will collapse without Ryder's perjured testimony. Holmes remarks that he is not retained by the police to remedy their deficiencies.


The Granada TV version starring Jeremy Brett is faithful to the original, except that it has — after Ryder flees to the Continent — Holmes and Watson making their way to the authorities, which leads to Horner being freed in time for Christmas with his wife and children. Also, the TV version has Holmes stating he "will keep the stone in my museum" — despite promising Peterson the Duchess' £1,000 reward; for this to be true, Peterson's "reward" must come from Holmes, in return for Peterson's silence. The original story states Holmes sends a line to the Countess saying that he has it.

Peter Cushing portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the 1968 BBC series, and "The Blue Carbuncle" is one of only six surviving episodes.[2]

Frank Middlemass appears in both the Granada TV version and the BBC adaptation. In the BBC adaptation he plays Peterson, whilst in the Granada adaptation he plays Henry Baker.

The 1979 Russian movie Blue Carbuncle (ru) is made in the vaudeville style, only vaguely following the original story line.

This story is also available in an altered version, but with the same characters, as part of Jim Weiss' children's CD, Sherlock Holmes for Children.

It was illustrated in a 1993 issue of Boys' Life magazine, with a few notable changes: the jewel in question is called the "Morcar Blue Diamond"; Holmes refuses Ryder's request for mercy and surrenders him to the police (along with Catherine Cusack), although he comments that his honest admission of guilt will likely help his case for clemency; and Holmes is rewarded for returning the diamond, which he uses to set up a trust fund for a group of boys known as the 'Baker Street Irregulars', to pay for their formal education.

The animated television series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century featured an adaptation of the story, replacing the goose with a blue stuffed toy called "Carbuncle" and the stone with a microprocessor.

In episode fifteen of the television series Elementary, Sherlock Holmes mentions the "case of the blue carbuncle" in conversation with Joan Watson.

In "The Empty Hearse", the first episode of the third series of the BBC television series Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes and his brother Mycroft have a casual competition in deduction (itself a reference to "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter") over analyzing a particular knitted hat. When Mycroft determines that it belonged to a man, Sherlock asks, "Why, the size of the head?", to which Mycroft reproachingly replies, "Don't be silly. Some women have large heads, too." Sherlock's subsequent look of guilt is a satirical allusion to the phrenology involved in the original short story, where Sherlock Holmes deducted that an owner of a hat was intelligent based on the size of his head, remarking "a man with so large a brain must have something in it."


  1. ^ "The Blue Carbuncle". Retrieved 2011-12-27. 
  2. ^ Stuart Douglas - "Missing Episodes". Archived from the original on 2012-07-21. Retrieved 2011-05-29. [dead link]

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